rock of ages, cleft for me

We sang this hymn a few weeks ago at church, and I’ve sung it many times before. This time, though, the word “cleft” really stood out to me. First off, it seems like a pretty old-school word that nobody in 2011 uses in their natural vocabulary. I mean, there are lots of old “hymnal-ish” words I sing at church and don’t usually take time to consider what I am meaning by singing them. Like the line in “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that says “Here, I raise my Ebenezer.” I mean, probably 90% of the church thinks of A Christmas Carol and Scrooge when they sing that line.
So I was thinking of what that phrase “cleft for me” means, and I wrote it down so I would look it up later. And I did. And I found it helpful, so I thought I’d share. 🙂
The line is: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” So figuratively, Christ is a solid, immovable, steady, unchanging rock, and has something to do with being “cleft” or “cleaved” on for me – so there’s a split in the rock that I can hide in. OK. Still lost on “cleft” a little.
cleft: noun [kleft] definition: 1. a space or opening made by or as if by splitting, 2. split or sever (something), esp. along a natural line or grain, 3. make a way through (something) forcefully, as if by splitting it apart
That last definition was what I was looking for. The significance of the gospel in the hymn Rock of Ages. Christ was “cleft” – split apart, apart from the Father, in order to make a way, forcefully!, through sin. He made a hiding place for me, a way, for me to be found in Christ, and with the Father.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.